Alpha Coal Project

The Alpha Coal Project is perhaps the best known and most extensively delineated coal deposit in the Galilee Basin. The project is being developed in partnership between GVK Coal Developers Pty Ltd (GVK) (79% ownership), a major Indian-based infrastructure company, and Hancock Prospecting Pty Ltd (Hancock Prospecting) (21% ownership) through its wholly owned subsidiary, Hancock Coal Pty Ltd (Hancock Coal). The project area lies about 50 km north-north-west of the township of Alpha, and 130 km south-west of Clermont in central Queensland (Figure 12). It occurs near the central-eastern boundary of the Galilee Basin close to several other large scale coal resources such as Kevin’s Corner, Alpha West and China First. Development will occur in the area of mining lease application (MLA) 70426, which overlies exploration permit for coal (EPC) 1210, mineral development licence (MDL) 285 and part of MDL 333.

Stratigraphically, six coal seams have been delineated in the Alpha mine host sequence, namely the A (uppermost), B, C, D, E and F (lowermost) seams (Figure 13). These seams are in the Late Permian Bandanna Formation (seams A and B), and the underlying Colinlea Sandstone (seams C to F). The seams dip consistently at a low angle westwards (mostly <1°), and thickness varies in multiple directions from less than one metre (e.g. sub-crop of seam C) to about eight metres thick (seam B). There is minimal folding or faulting of the coal-bearing strata in the project area, such that most coal seams are geologically consistent throughout the mining lease. For example, Hancock Prospecting (2010) indicated that coal seams in the project area can be correlated with similar seams intersected in drillholes over 100 km away to the west.

Figure 13

Figure 13 Geological cross-section (west to east) through central part of Alpha Coal Project in the Galilee subregion

Source: modified from Hancock Prospecting (2010). The lowest coal seam (seam F) is not shown. Labelled coal exploration bores shown as red lines.

In general, the coal resources at Alpha are high volatile (30 to 35%) bituminous with variable ash content, typically 8 to 35%, and low sulfur. The coal has been shown to have a high propensity for spontaneous combustion, requiring significant attention during mine operations to ensure effective monitoring and management (Hancock Prospecting, 2010).

The Permian coal-bearing strata in the area of MLA 70426 are overlain by a variable thickness of geologically younger Cenozoic sediments, including sand, fine gravel and minor clay (Hancock Prospecting, 2010). These range from over 60 m thick in some areas to less than 20 m thick in the north of the lease. In the far western part of the mining lease there is remnant sub-crop of Triassic Rewan Formation siltstone and sandstone, although this does not occur over the proposed mining area.

Proposed development at the Alpha Coal Project has been designed around six large scale open-cut pits. These will trend northwards as development progresses, and eventually cover a continuous strike-length of about 24 km across the centre of MLA 70426. Mining will initially target the C and D seams of the Colinlea Sandstone, which have a combined measured plus indicated coal resource of nearly 1.8 billion tonnes (Gt), reported in accordance with the JORC Code (Table 7). These seams are the only ones at Alpha Coal Project currently considered economically viable for extraction via open-cut mining. Seams A and B in the Bandanna Formation sequence have a restricted spatial distribution and only minor tonnages of these occur within the far western part of the project area lease (Figure 13). A nominal tonnage from the B seam contributes to the overall coal resource at Alpha, as shown in Table 6 (Hancock Prospecting, 2010).

Annual production rates are expected to be 30 million tonnes (Mt) of thermal black coal for delivery to export markets (Hancock Prospecting, 2011). This will result from mining 38 Mt of run of mine (ROM) coal every year. The expected life-of-mine is 30 years, although delineation of additional resources in the future could extend mining life. This may include future development of underground mining operations to target deeper seams that are presently considered uneconomic for open-cut.

Table 7 Alpha Coal Project resources in the Galilee subregion

JORC Code resource category

B seam tonnage


C seam tonnage


D seam tonnage


Total resource




















Source: Hancock Prospecting (2010). Resources current as of July 2010. The A seam is not part of the Alpha coal resource as it is not significantly developed within the mining area, occurring inconsistently in the far west of MLA 70426.

JORC – Joint Ore Reserves Committee

Mining operations at Alpha Coal Project will require six conventional draglines and truck and shovel equipment to remove and haul the overburden from the pit area (Hancock Prospecting, 2011). Draglines will also be used to remove interburden where required. Two in-pit crushing and conveying (IPCC) systems will be used to haul overburden to the stockpile. The overburden will initially be stockpiled in designated out-of-pit areas, before it is later used to backfill the open-cut pits. Coal will be loaded with either front-end loader or excavator, with a fleet of over 40 bottom-dump coal trucks to haul coal to the ROM facilities. All mined coal will pass through the ROM, where it will be initially sized (reduced) before further processing occurs at the coal handling and preparation plant (CHPP).

To support mining and processing there will be significant investment in new infrastructure within the area of the mine footprint, expected to affect about 20,680 hectares (Hancock Prospecting, 2011). Construction of the mine and associated infrastructure is estimated to take 48 months. The main infrastructure associated with the Alpha Coal Project will include:

  • coal handling and preparation plant (CHPP)
  • run of mine (ROM) pads
  • quarry and borrow pits
  • tailings storage facility (TSF)
  • light industrial area (LIA) for mine support
  • mine infrastructure area (MIA)
  • various dams, roads, water and wastewater systems
  • accommodation village.

In addition to these mine-site requirements, the development proposal for the Alpha Coal Project also includes a new 495 km long railway corridor linking the mine-site with the Port of Abbott Point near Bowen. This railway is expected to be a privately owned and operated standard gauge line, with a non-electrified single track (Hancock Prospecting, 2011). The eventual export capacity of the rail line is expected to be 60 Mt/year over a 30 year operating life. Rail facilities will include two balloon loops, nine passing loops, maintenance sidings, and a marshalling yard. The rail link will be used to transport washed product coal from Alpha and the nearby Kevin’s Corner coal mine (and potentially from other mining operations in the Galilee Basin) to the port loading facilities at Abbott Point for export to market. Further development of the port facilities at Abbott Point will also be required to handle the expected increase in export volumes from Alpha and the other coal development projects expected to come online in the Galilee Basin over the next decade.

The Alpha Coal Project received regulatory approval from the Queensland Coordinator-General in May 2012 (Queensland Coordinator-General, 2012), subject to various conditions designed to mitigate and manage potential adverse environmental impacts. The Australian Government also provided approval with conditions for the development in August 2012 under the EPBC Act. In September 2013 action was launched by several groups in the Queensland Land Court against the project. In April 2014 the court released its non-binding recommendations to the Queensland Government, and indicated that if the mine is to proceed, it should be subject to additional conditions concerning groundwater monitoring, licenses and compensation. As of August 2014, the start of construction at Alpha mine was awaiting the final approvals needed under relevant Queensland legislation. These relate to the granting of the proposed Alpha mining lease (ML 70426, which is currently under application), and the award of an environmental authority (EA) under the Queensland Environmental Protection Act 1994. The EA is required for Alpha as the coal mining activities are regarded as an environmentally relevant activity (ERA).

If the ML and EA processes are successful, then construction of mine-site and associated infrastructure at Alpha may commence thereafter. Depending on the start date, construction of the proposed Alpha development may be completed in 2016 or 2017 (Hancock Prospecting, 2011). Initial coal production is expected in 2017, ramping up to full-scale operations between 2017 and 2020.

Last updated:
5 January 2018
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